Obama in Michigan: Views from a Teacher and Parent

… The degree you earn from Michigan will be the best tool you have to achieve that basic American promise … be part of something that is adding value to this country and maybe changing the world.  …That’s what the American Dream is all about.  

My grandfather got the chance to go to college because this country decided that every returning veteran of World War II should be able to afford it.  My mother was able to raise two kids by herself because she was able to get grants and work her way through school.  I am only standing here today because scholarships and student loans gave me a shot at a decent education.”

When President Obama spoke these words to the crowd at the University of Michigan on Friday, he described the situation of many students in the audience who struggle to pay for the education they’ll need to participate in the American Dream. Like the President, I have two daughters of whom I am very proud, and both are fortunate to attend the University of Michigan.

Tracey with Secretary Duncan in Michigan

Tracey with Secretary Duncan at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor before President Obama's speech.

As a high school teacher in Ann Arbor and a single parent who is solely responsible for my daughters’ tuition bills, I welcome the President’s plans in the “Blueprint for an America Built to Last” to make college more affordable for families like ours. Everyday I worry about the debt my girls will have when they graduate. Expanding work study opportunities and keeping interest rates low on federal loans will be crucial to my daughters’ and other students’ ability to finish college. As the President said, “… In this economy, there is no greater predictor of individual success than a good education.”

Fortunately, thanks to the President’s support for manufacturing and the auto industry, the Michigan economy is starting to recover, and I agree with the President that the United States has to continue to be a country where everybody has a chance to succeed, and affordable education is the key to that goal.

As a 2010 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow with the Department of Education, I have experienced Secretary Duncan and President Obama’s commitment to having teachers at the table in policy discussions.  Through the fellowship, I have had unique opportunities to engage in meaningful conversations with diverse groups of educators and policy makers. These were all great experiences.  When I met President Obama after the speech, and he thanked me for my work, I was immensely grateful both for the chance of a lifetime and for an administration that clearly values teachers and education.

Tracey Van Dusen

Tracey Van Dusen is a 2010 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches AP Government and American Studies at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Bringing Transparency to College Costs

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

More and more, Americans understand the critical role that earning a college degree plays in their lives, with prospects for higher earnings and further advancements that extend throughout their careers. However, one of the greatest challenges Americans face is the rising cost of higher education.

To help students make informed decisions about their choice for higher education, today the Department of Education launched an online College Affordability and Transparency Center on the Department of Education’s College Navigator website. As part of this Center, the Department posted lists that highlight institutions with the highest tuition prices, highest net prices, and institutions whose prices are rising at the fastest rates. Institutions whose prices are rising the fastest will report why costs have gone up and how the institution will address rising prices. The Department will summarize these reports and make them publicly available to parents and students.

The President has been committed to making higher education more affordable, and today’s announcement complements our ongoing efforts. Since taking office, we have worked to expand student aid, improve options to repay student loans, and give more students access to higher education. We have also enhanced consumer information on the FAFSA and on the College Navigator portal, a resource that can provide information on thousands of institutions of higher education across the nation. These existing tools will complement the informative resources newly available today.

But colleges also have a role to play as we work to ease the financial burden of higher education. In his State of the Union address last year, the President called on colleges to do a better job of keeping costs down. Additionally, state budget constraints present increasing challenges for affordability. Too often the answer has been to cut aid to public colleges and increase tuition, pushing the financial burden on families already struggling to make ends meet.

Ultimately, better information alone will not cure the problem of college affordability. However, it will enhance the choices and decisions made by families as they pursue higher education. The new College Transparency and Affordability Center is just a first step in helping students better understand their path in postsecondary education; the Administration will continue to promote transparency in educational costs that will help all current and prospective students of higher education make a smart investment in their postsecondary studies.

Melody Barnes is the President’s Domestic Policy Adviser and the Director of the Domestic Policy Council